On Wednesday, December 18, 2013, twelve Kansas City Public School teachers gathered in a classroom at Webster University for the last time as the first cohort to complete the certification program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) funded by a National Professional Development grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Cohort 1, as they came to be known, began the classes leading to ESOL certification in August 2012.
Refreshments, certificates, and applause awaited these twelve who for the last sixteen months left their classrooms in the district one to two nights a week to meet at Webster University’s Kansas City campus to study topics such as language acquisition theories, curriculum development for second language classrooms, principles and practices of assessing English learners, and effective instructional methods.
Dr. Gayle Bradshaw, Coordinator for the Education Program at Webster’s Kansas City campus, kicked off the evening by congratulating the participants and introducing Webster’s new Regional Director Dr. Cass Butler. Dr. Butler and Allyson Hile, Director of Language Services for Kansas City Public Schools, also praised their hard work. Then the participants were given the floor to talk about their experience in the program, how it has affected their students, and advice they have for future cohorts.
Several spoke about the camaraderie that had developed within the cohort. Dr. Larry Weible, teacher at East High School, shared about this aspect of his experience and the broad application of his Webster studies. “The competitive team work atmosphere that quickly developed in our cohort was instrumental in expanding our knowledge beyond the TESL curriculum…The TESL experience was more than a certification program for English language learners; the knowledge gained is applicable to all learners in every classroom in any school setting,” Dr. Weible shared after the event.
Ali Johnston-Hull, Instructional Coach at J.A. Rogers Elementary School, also commented on how the coursework had a broader application than she had anticipated. “I have been able to help teachers throughout the building strengthen their instructional delivery through strategies and application of strategies to help all learners, not just English learners,” she said. “I think every teacher needs this training,” another participant added.
The KCPS teachers who make up Cohort 1 teach in schools with the highest English learner (EL) populations in the district such as Whittier Elementary, J.A. Rogers, and East High School. Rosalind O’Hora, a classroom teacher at Whittier, shared that before she began the program at Webster, she felt ill-equipped to meet the needs of the English learners in her classroom because they struggled to communicate in English and were unable to verbalize their needs. However, she stated that the curriculum of the certificate program has taught her to better understand and anticipate their needs.
After each participant had the opportunity to speak, Dr. Bradshaw handed out the certificates of completion, and Dr. Alicia Miguel, an instructor for the program and Director of ESL for Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, addressed the group. Dr. Miguel teaches the capstone course which Dr. Weible described as “a comprehensive practicum that requires detailed documentation of coursework application.”
In addition to providing tuition for the coursework, the grant provides participants with instructional tools such as iPads and quarterly training in engaging diverse families. It also equips paraprofessionals and principals to serve the district’s culturally and linguistically diverse population by providing training in protocol for delivering academic content in a way that is comprehensible for ELs.
Twenty-three more teachers have joined Webster’s grant-funded ESOL certificate program in Cohorts 2 and 3 in spring and fall of 2013, and sixteen more were chosen in December 2013 to participate as Cohort 4. These participants also represent schools with high EL populations including Trailwoods, Paige, Longfellow, Carver, Foreign Language Academy, Garfield, Gladstone, James, and Alta Vista.
Eleven of the twelve teachers in Cohort 1 will continue on to earn a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at Webster University. Among pieces of advice they offered future participants was that the program is an “unbelievable opportunity worth every minute.” Another suggested, “Be ready to work. Be open to others, and be ready for immediate practice and application” – sound advice for the eighty-nine slated to follow in their steps through the end the five-year grant in 2017. Benefiting students, their families, teachers, and the district, the program truly is a win for all.